A Town Called Pandemonium
At the end of last year I was asked to contribute a short story to Pandemonium, an anthology of new apocalyptic fiction commissioned by Pornokitsch. It was always intended as a limited-run, which means that on the 4th of November, one year after its release, it will be gone from the Amazon store FOREVER. It has short stories in it by Lauren Beukes, S.L. Grey, Charles Human and Sophia McDougall, among many others, so grab it while you can.
But don’t fret too much at the passing of Pandemonium. Pornokitsch have been busy with many other fantastic publications, including – this November – A Town Called Pandemonium. It’s an anthology of cowboy stories, set in the same town and with a shared cast of characters. The stories are written by science fiction and fantasy writers Scott Andrews, Chrysanthy Balis, Archie Black, Joseph D’Lacey, Will Hill, Jonathan Oliver, Den Patrick, Sam Sykes, Osgood Vance and myself, and it’s illustrated by genius Cape Town designer and rock god, Adam Hill. It’s a lot of wild fun, and it’s available for pre-order NOW.
To whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from my story, “Rhod the Killer”
On the 5th of July 1853, Cathal Whelan scuttled his way over to the Silver Dollar to bring Con Elm the good news.
“Greenhorn,” he said.
Con spat into the whiskey glass he was cleaning and shoved in a stained brown cloth to clear out the hardened grime that had gathered at the bottom.
“Mighty green. Spectacles. Starched shirt. Stinks of shoe polish. Paid in advance,” said Whelan, smiling wide, his cheeks pushing up until they almost eclipsed his sunken eyes. A customer was one thing, but a customer dumb enough to pay in advance for a room in the Café de Paris was something other. There wouldn’t be any trouble if a dead rat was discovered in the customer’s bed, if some of the rotting floorboards caved in underfoot, or if Whelan let himself into the room to rifle through the man’s property, curious-like. Whelan had the man’s money, and that was that. He laid out a portion of it on the counter and Con poured him a whiskey.
As Whelan threw it back into his gap-toothed maw, Con got on with scraping the crust off the new bar counter with a wire brush, and quietly speculating on the news. If a greenhorn was good news for Whelan then it was even better news for Con. Tenderfoots fresh from the East were mighty fine for business. They always started the same: sparking with ideas of a clean life under a big sky. It was never more than a couple of months before their dreams dried up in a drought, froze up in the frost or washed away in the first flash flood. After that they’d be at the Silver Dollar every day for the rest of their lives, however long that might be. Con resolved to make the acquaintance of the newcomer, maybe invite the man to partake in a little Pandemonium hospitality at the newly refurbished saloon.
* * * * *
The next morning Con got his wish in an unexpected manner. It wasn’t much after dawn and he was at the washstand in his room above the bar, splashing his face and cursing as the icy water ran down his shirtless back and soaked his undergarments, when he heard the swing-doors clatter below.
“Good morning? Halloo?” came an unfamiliar voice.
Con cursed again, and called out “Comin’!” He pulled on his trousers and went downstairs, drying his hair on a scratchy towel.
The newcomer was sitting at the bar. He had a moustacheless face with spectacles and straight black hair that looked like it was used to getting rained on. A black leather satchel was lying on the counter.
Con twisted his face into a smile.
“What can I do fer ya?” he said.
“Good morning,” said the newcomer in a sing-song way that made Con narrow his eyes. “Do you happen to own this bar?”
“That I do,” said Con. “Nice, isn’t it? Welcomin’ like.”
Those words weren’t exactly the whole truth, but after the last few months of work Con felt entitled to them. After the Deakins affair the Silver Dollar hadn’t seen much business, largely because it had been a burned-out husk. The townsfolk crossed themselves and said that no one would ever set foot in the saloon’s innards again. But Conway Elm had faith in the drawing power of liquor, and he used his savings to buy up the shell of the building from Representation Calhoun. He painted the walls, put down a new polished cottonwood bar counter and cleared out the band-tailed pigeons that had taken to roosting in the rafters. The place still stank of smoke, paint and birdshit, but Con was right. The liquor always pulled them in.
The newcomer leaned around in his chair and tapped the air, like he was counting. “You have quite a few windows. Eight that I can see.”
“Sure,” said Con, a mite unsettled. “And four more upstairs. You want whiskey or what?”
“Whiskey?” said the newcomer. “Would that be imported?”
“Naw,” said Con, waving a dismissive hand. “That’s for them that’s got no sand. Anyone with a bit of grit in ‘em will tell you that Pandemonium whiskey’s the best in New Mexico. Fact is, if you’d like a treat, got a bottle of Silver Dollar Special back here.”
“Ah! And you made it yourself?” said the newcomer, opening his satchel. He took out a ledger, a pen and a tin inkwell with a screw-top cap and placed them on the counter.
“Sure did,” said Con, his mask of likability wearing thin. “Got fifty good bottles out of the still. Now are you gonna have a drink or are ya gonna waste the mornin’?”
“Um. Yes please,” said the newcomer, opening the ledger. Between the pages was a thin sheath of printed forms and some blotting paper. He unscrewed the inkwell carefully, dipped and tapped the pen, and started writing on the topmost form. Con reached for the whiskey, and the newcomer held up an apologetic finger.
“Nothing hard. Just a sarsaparilla, if you please,” he said.
Con’s hand hung in front of the whiskey bottle.
“Ain’t got sarsaparilla,” he said.
“Then a glass of water, please,” said the newcomer, and went back to writing.
Con stared at the man for a while, then took a glass from the shelf behind him and went back upstairs. He scooped up some water from the wash-basin, and brought it back down. The newcomer sipped delicately, said “thank you,” in his musical voice, and got back to his writing. A few minutes later he signed his name neatly at the bottom of the form, and handed it to Con.
“There you go,” he said with a small polite smile, and packed his things back into his satchel. “That wasn’t bad now, was it?”
“What am I meant to do with this?” said Con, holding the page like something fished out of a corpse.
“Pay it, I suppose,” said the newcomer. “We all have to do our part, don’t we? Thank you ever so for the water, and have a lovely day.”
The tax man smiled again and walked out into the light.
Pre-order A Town Called Pandemonium here.